Eric Mantel - "The Unstruck Melody" (2006)
From Aural Innovations #34 (August 2006)
Eric Mantel is one of those shred-God guitarists that is compared in the promo literature to every imaginable guitarist because he excels at every imaginable style, though emphasis seems to be on placing him in the Vai-Johnson-Satriani mold. I've not heard of him before but his web site discography indicates he's been releasing albums since the late 70's. The Unstruck Melody is a collection of 20 tracks that showcases Mantel's flair for a variety of genres. The opening title track is a rapid fire ride through the radio dial that hints at what's to come….. this will be a 20 track tour of the many styles that Eric Mantel excels at. And "excels" is an understatement. The guy can PLAY.
There are certainly tracks that support the Vai-Johnson-Satriani analogy, though Mantel goes in a variety of directions. "Exit 10" has a semi-countrified Steve Morse brand of fusion flavor. "Wings of Fire" is like a cross between Steve Morse and Jimi Hendrix and one of the more exciting tracks of the set. Ripping, highly passionate rocking guitar and cool efx. "Finger Pickin' Country" is a total hothouse country Bluegrass shredfest. There are also several tracks that are of the more cool jazz variety. "Tai-Chi is a light jazz fusion tune that wisely injects variety and spice into the music by taking a few moments to let its hair down and rock. "Under a Different Light" is similar, starting off as a cool jazz tune but eventually ripping it up a bit. "The Real You" is a funky bluesy hot rockin' ultra smokin' groove tune. "Intermission" is a short piece showcasing Clar Monaco on sitar. Bummer that it's only 45 seconds long. I thought we were gonna start to trip out a bit. But he does return for a slightly longer sitar jam on "The Unstruck Melody (Reprise)". And "Affectionately Yours" is a pleasant acoustic guitar piece.
There are also several vocal tracks, some of which feature standard 70's styled bouncy light rock and others that were just too fluffy for my tastes. But among the vocal tracks that did stand out were "The Simple Things", a somewhat Steely Dan-ish melodic light pop jazz tune. "True Home" is one of the fluffy song, but I did dig the character and colorings the multiple guitar parts add to the music. And "Only Want Your Love" is by far the ballsiest of the vocal tunes. In fact, this is one of the most kick ass rocking songs of the set. Like a pop tune with Eddie van Halen laying down some axe madness.
In summary, The Unstruck Melody will surely appeal to fans of guitarists along the Vai-Johnson-Satriani-Morse axis… those who can play virtually anything. And it's not just a non-stop flash fest. There's equal focus on composition and songcraft. My only problem with the album is I came away from it not really knowing who Eric Mantel is. But that's really personal gripe because honestly, I'm just not into the Vai, Morse, etc thing anymore. The Unstruck Melody is like a portfolio, or resume of all that Mantel can do. And that of course will be enough for many potential fans to know they want to check him out.
For more information you can visit the Eric Mantel web site at: http://www.ericmantel.com.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz